Monthly archives: June 2005
With the All-Star voting closing tonight at 11:59pm and the Yanks enjoying an off-day following a rain out, I though I'd share my picks.
1B - Mark Teixeira
1B - Derek Lee
There are two sides to picking an All-Star team. One is picking the players who have performed the best over the first three months of the current season. The other is choosing the biggest stars at each position. This is similar to the peak vs. career conversation that often arises when weighing a player's Hall of Fame candidacy. Myself, I lean toward choosing the players who have performed best in the current season, the logic being that they have these things every year for a reason. Even Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez have to earn an All-Star appearance in my book. Some would argue that a three-month period is not a large enough sample, that perhaps it would be better to reward the previous years' performance, thus allowing things to even out over a full season. Me, I'd much rather see Norm Cash in 1961 than in 1962 and Brady Anderson in 1996 than 1997, thus I'll continue to vote for the players having the best season and risk the odd fluke selection.
Those who disagree will likely take one look at the above list of names and get all bent out of shape over my choosing Milwaukee's Bill Hall as the starting National League shortstop. To them I ask, would you prefer Felipe Lopez?
Gary Sheffield spoke with reporters yesterday and made it crystal clear that he would make life exceedingly hard for any team the Yankees traded him to. According to Jack Curry in the New York Times:
"I would never sit out," Sheffield said. "I would go play for them. It doesn't mean I'm going to be happy playing there. And if I'm unhappy, you don't want me on your team. It's just that simple. I'll make that known to anyone."
Joe Torre later told Sheffield that the Yanks have no desire to persue a deal with the Mets. "The Yankees would never just give up Gary Sheffield," is how one American League executive phrased it to Curry. To hear a full audio clip of Sheff's rant, head on over to Matt Cerrone's outstanding Metsblog.com and peep the mp3. Personally, I think his spiel was amusing. I've enjoyed Sheffiled a lot since he's been in the Bronx. He's been a terrific player, and don't blame him for not wanting to leave. Mike Vaccaro put it well in the Post today:
Sheffield is arrogant, he's moody, he's tempermental--but he's smart as hell. You bet he wanted to kill this deal as quickly as he could.
You could also add that he's a great player and a future Hall of Famer to boot. And in case you missed it, be sure and check out Jay Jaffe's excellent three-part history of Sheff (one, two and three) over at The Futility Infielder.
Kicked to the Curb
The Post reports that the Yankees have released relievers Paul Quantrill and Mike Stanton. Both seemed like good guys, but neither was especially effective this year.
If Yankees general manager Brian Cashman can't find takers for the two pitchers by tomorrow, he'll have to designate them for assignment. Stanton has a no-trade clause, so he can dictate his destination. To have any chance of dealing either pitcher, the Yankees will likely have to pay what's left of their salaries. Stanton, who makes $4 million this season, has a 1-2 record and 7.07 ERA, and Quantrill, who makes $3 million, is 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA.
This move does not come as a surpise.
Well, the Yankees and Orioles have been rained out in Baltimore tonight, but there is some Yankee news to report. With Hideki Matsui able to play the field again, the Yanks have demoted Kevin Reese and brought up Jason Anderson.
For those who don't remember him from 2003, when he made the Yankees out of spring training as a 23-year-old rookie, Anderson is a now-26-year-old righty reliever who has a strong minor league track record (3.35 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 7.93 K/9, 2.54 K/9, 3.13 K/BB through 2004), but was unable to capitalize upon his best major league opportunity in 2003. That year he made 28 of his 29 career major league apperances. After 22 games with the Yankees in 2003, Anderson was dealt accross town in the Armando Benitez trade and eventually wound up in the Indians system before returning to the Yankees via a waver claim just over a year ago, having appeared in just seven more games total for the Mets and Indians.
In Columbus this season, Anderson has been the Clipper's best reliever, improving upon that minor league career line thusly: 2.85 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, .189 BAA, 7.99 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 3.81 K/BB (47.1 IP, 30 H, 42 K, 11 BB, 4 HR)
Having Anderson on the team is a step in the right direction as he's been excellent in Columbus thus far and could make one of the Yankees Bad Three (Stanton, Quantrill, Groom) expendable if he finally puts it together at the major league level.
Incidentally, as luck would have it, the Yankees got rained out on the night Joe Torre finally figured out the Yankees' ideal line-up. According to MLB Gameday:
R - Jeter (SS)
Searching For Quality
Last night, with a significant assist from their manager, the Yankees blew their chance to bum rush second place and the Wild Card race with a sweep of the current series against the Orioles. Instead, all the team has to show for their efforts on Tuesday are the on-going renaissance of Hideki Matsui (3 for 4 with a double and a homer and 2 RBIs, pushing his season line to .305/.372/.495, his best marks since late April) and the continued emergence of Robinson Cano (2 for 4 with a homer and two runs scored from the two-hole) and Chien-Ming Wang.
If Wang's impressive outing against the hard-hitting Orioles wasn't enough to silence his doubters, here's a quick look at the quality starts (min. 6 IP, max 3 ER) the Yankees have received from their seven starters thus far this season:
Pavano should rightly be even with Mike Mussina at .500, as it's hard to blame him for the April 10 start which he was forced to leave in the third inning after being beaned by a comebacker. Meanwhile, Mussina will try to push his mark above .500 as he takes the mound tonight against the Orioles.
Rookie Hayden Penn will foot the rubber for the Orioles, making his seventh major league start. Penn's only quality start thus far came against the Rockies, who are essentially a triple-A team anyway, at home in his second most recent start. His one outing since then was by far his worst in the majors as he gave up seven runs on eight hits and two walks to the Braves in just two innings. Still, Penn is regarded as a legitimate talent. Check out what Baseball Analysts' Bryan Smith wrote about him in a recent post addressing some of the rookie talent to debut in 2005.
First of all, kudos to the Orioles for handling Penn correctly. While promoting the red-hot Penn might have been premature with John Maine in the International League, it hasn't really come back to haunt the Orioles. They also have kept close watch on Penn's pitch counts, only twice letting him go into triple-digits, and never over 103 [which could have cost him as many as three or four additional quality starts--CJC]. But, Penn has been getting hit up of late, with five home runs allowed in his last three starts. Sooner or later, if the ship is not righted, swapping Maine and Penn might be in the best interest of everyone involved. No matter what, Hayden is one fantastic talent.
Incidentally, Bryan has some very kind words for Robinson Cano in that post. Be sure to check it out.
Plenty of Nuthin'
Nothing dramatic went down in Tampa Bay yesterday, but change could be right around the corner. When, is anyone's guess. Never one to miss an opportunity, the New York Post glossed over last night's discouraging 5-4 loss on the back page today in favor of some juicy gossip. According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees and Mets may consider swapping Gary Sheffield for Mike Cameron. Sherman's two sources, an AL and NL club executive, say the deal is in its infancy:
[The Yankees] have talked to a couple of GMs and said they would move [Sheffield] for a similar type of player to shake things up a little, get younger or to fill a couple of their needs, specifically center field or starting pitching," the NL executive said.
Sheffield, Flash Gordon, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada do not have no-trade clauses in their contracts. However, Sheffield told the New York Times:
"I'm not going anywhere," said Sheffield, who is signed through 2006. "If I have to go somewhere, I won't go. If they said, 'Wouldn't you want to get paid?' I'd say, 'I've got plenty of money.' I'm not playing nowhere else. I can promise you that."
If Sheff's name hangs around the rumor mill, things could get ugly.
Verdict: Wang Innocent, Torre Guilty
Chien-Ming Wang acquited himself quite nicely against Baltimore's sluggin' O's last night, posting his seventh quality start in ten starts on the season with this line: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 HR, 0 BB, 3 K.
Unfortunately, Joe Torre's notorious push-button bullpen mismanagement and continually fragile faith in Wang conspired to rob the rookie right-hander and his team of a win.
Here's the situation: Bottom of the eighth inning. The Yankees have a 4-3 lead. Wang has thrown just 83 pitches, 68 percent of them strikes. In the seventh he got Sammy Sosa to groundout on a full count, gave up a full-count single to Luis Matos, induced a double play grounder from Chris Gomez on a 1-2 count that was turned into a fielder's choice when Matos forced Robinson Cano to make a wide throw to first, then got pinch-hitter Eli Marrero to fly out on a 1-0 count.
The top of the Oriole order is due up in this inning: Switch-hitter Brian Roberts (ground out, fly out, double), lefty Larry Bigbie (homer, two ground outs), and righty Miguel Tejada (ground out, single, foul out to Posada). Everyone is available in the pen.
What do you do?
A Wang Wook At Chein-Ming
After ten major league appearances, Chien-Ming Wang heads into tonight's game with a 4.31 ERA, and a 1.24 WHIP having held opposing batters to a .248/.305/.343 (.223 GPA) line with a staggering 2.57 ground ball to fly ball ratio (which would rank sixth in the major leagues among qualified pitchers if Wang himself actually qualified). All of which is more than most could have asked for from a rookie pitcher thrust into an essentially permanent rotation spot due to an injury on the major league club.
But then there are these numbers: 3.30 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 1.28 K/BB. Those figures, particularly the K/9, which would be seventh worst in the majors if Wang qualified, have prompted some to call for Wang to be dealt before he is revealed as the phony they believe his low K-rate indicates he is. Taking that a step further, there are those who have accused Wang of feasting on poor-hitting teams, while struggling against more powerful offenses.
Well, thus far Chien-Ming has faced eight teams, and made starts against seven of them, here they are along with their current major league rank in runs scored and OPS:
Against those eight teams, Wang has turned in six quality starts in nine opportunities. The three exceptions being his two starts against the Devil Rays and his one against the Cardinals. His one appearance against the Red Sox came in relief.
Those stats would seem to support the image of Wang as a pitcher whose success has been largely based on facing week offenses, but I'm not convinced. To begin with, his minor league strikeout and walk rates indicate that his current low K-rate is likely to improve. In four minor league seasons between A ball and Columbus, Wang's worst K/9 was 6.20 and his career minor league mark is 7.16 K/9. Similarly, his worst BB/9 was 2.36. Both of those marks came in his first season at double-A in 2003 and both improved when he returned to Trenton in 2004, and then improved again when he was promoted to Columbus later that year. Similarly, Wang's second most recent start, against the Cubs who rank well above Tampa and just behind St. Louis in OPS, was his best of his young major league career and saw him strike out five men in eight innings against just one walk.
Still, until Wang acquits himself against strong-hitting teams, the doubters will have the floor. Tonight, Chien-Ming makes his first career start against the Orioles, who rank fifth in the majors in runs scored and second in the bigs in OPS. Again, I'm optimistic.
There was no brawl in Baltimore last night, but the signs for one were there. Carl Pavano initiated the bad feelings when he plunked Brian Roberts in the back following Larry Bigbie's solo home run. Several innings later, Daniel Cabrera retaliated by throwing behind Alex Rodriguez. Both teams were issued a warning by home plate umpire Marty Foster and that was that. But Orioles' reliever Steve Kline--who looks like Mike Stanton's disheveled kid brother--provided some theatrics in the seventh inning when he was called for a balk. With the game tied at four and Jorge Posada on first base, Jason Giambi was at the plate with the count 3-0 in his favor. On the YES broadcast you could hear someone shout "Balk!" The announcers later speculated that the Orioles believed that the Yankee bench had convinced the ump to make the call. Either way, Kline absolutely lost it, and was quickly run from the game.
He later told reporters:
"I just think they favor the Yankees all the time," he said. "I'm getting [upset] at that. They suck up to them. They're the cream of the crop."
I'm Just Sayin'
If there was ever a time when two teams were primed for a brawl, tonight could be the night in Baltimore. Not that the Yanks and O's have any heated rivalry going yet, but both teams have struggled of late, and the Bombers are playing like a team that could use a bench-clearing incident to get the led out of their systems (it would be funny if Torre joined the O's in the fight, just to kick some of his own players in the ass). Plus, the volatile Daniel Cabrera is pitching for the Birds. That could help. Word to the wise: Don't plunk Sheff, dude, unless you are prepared to throw bolos.
The Orioles Revisited
I've been fairly convinced that the Yankees are and will remain a .500 team this year ever since they were swept by the then AL-worst Royals four weeks ago. Still, streaks such as their 6-0 opening to the just-completed home stand and apparent breakthroughs by men such as Randy Johnson, Jason Giambi, and especially Hideki Matsui combined with the continued impressive performances of Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang have kept me from saying so at print. But after the Yanks dropped 3 of 4 to the Devil Rays for the second time this year (falling to 3-7 against them on the season) and needed a last-gasp ninth-inning rally to avoid a sweep at the hands of the scuffling Mets, I'm finally ready to put it in black and white. That said, I'm optimistic about the team's prospects heading in the three-game series with the Orioles that will kick off in Baltimore tonight.
After the Yanks took those first six home games from the Pirates and Cubs, the hope was that they could keep their momentum through the inferior D-Rays and Mets and get within three games of the division leading O's in time to have a chance to take the division lead with a sweep of this series. Oh how things have changed. Not only did the Yanks finish their home stand with a 2-5 record against the Rays and Mets, but the Orioles have also fallen on hard times, droping six of their last seven to the Blue Jays and Braves (admittedly stronger competition), and relinquishing their division lead to the surging Red Sox (who, having won 12 of their last 13, appear to be on their way to running away with the east).
So not only did the Yankees fail to get within three games of the O's (they're four games behind them going into tonight), the Orioles are no longer the team to beat in the east as they trail the Sox by 2.5 and enter this series on a five-game losing streak. With that in mind, the Yankees are still in a position to tighten things between themselves and the second-place O's, who also happen to be the Wild Card leaders of the moment, with the Twins also having hit hard times (5-11 in their last 16 games--in fact, the O's, Twins and Yankees have nearly identical records in June: 11-13 for the O's and Yanks, 11-12 for the Twins).
Taking a quick look at the pitching match-ups, the Yankees are in good shape: Pavano pitching on the road (2.49 ERA) against the volatile Daniel Cabrera (5.54 ERA, 5.91 in June), The Anchor Chien-Ming Wang taking on that giant ball of suck Sir Sidney Ponson (5.42 ERA), and Mike Mussina, a near-Hall of Fame veteran who has pitched several hundred games in Camden Yards, facing reeling rookie Hayden Penn (6.07 ERA, one quality start in six tries). I'm not making any predictions, but I have a good feeling about this.
Tick, tick, tick...
I believe that George Steinbrenner is not the same man he was back in the seventies and eighties, but at some point you figure he's going to do something. Someone has to get canned, right? So long as the Yanks continue to play as poorly as they have, it just seems inevitable. So who will be the first one to get it? Brian Cashman or Mel Stottlemyre? My guess is that it will be Mel.
You are supposed to feel good when your team wins, right? Well, after the display of terrible fielding the Yanks put on during the seventh inning last night, I felt more relieved than anything else when they finally pulled it out in the ninth. I also felt a lot of other things, and none of them were too kind or uplifting. But hey, a win is a win, no matter how ugly. Jason Giambi's bases loaded single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Bombers a 5-4 victory, as they avoided being swept at home by the Mets. Randy Johnson pitched a good game, Alex Rodriguez had four hits (two in "the clutch" for those who care to notice these things), and Mariano Rivera pitched a one-two-three ninth to earn the win. Rivera is now 4-2 on the season, with sixteen saves, and two blown saves. His earned run average is down to 0.94.
The Yanks head down to Baltimore today for a three game series against the slumping Orioles. It will be interesting to see which team continues to slide here. Carl Pavano is in a big spot for New York once again. Let's see how he responds...
Burn, Bernie Burned
It's probably a good thing that I missed yesterday's game, another in a series of flat performances by the Yanks. I did catch the last couple of innings on the radio, and man, it wasn't even close, as the Mets cruised 10-3. Later, I saw the highlights, which featured Cliff Floyd's two monstrous dingers, and a montage of unfortunate fielding plays by Bernie Williams (who made an awful error on Friday night as well).
The clip that was most arresting showed Williams knocking over the water cooler in the dugout, as if the ghost of Paul O'Neill had gotten a hold of him. I don't ever recall Bernie lashing on in anger like that, do you? According to the New York Times:
"I think we're asking him to do more than we expected from him all year," [manager Joe] Torre said..."In spring training, I thought about having Bernie out there and giving him a couple of days off. We just haven't been able to do that. We don't have the depth in center field to do that. We're going to look and see how we can get him a day off."
Steve Lombardi has an interesting post on Williams that hints that Bernie isn't so well-loved by one of his longtime teammates (my guess is that person is Derek Jeter).
Petey Knows (Throws) Best
I went out and saw the new Batman movie last night. I thought it was well worth ten bucks and easily the most impressive Batman movie to date. Meanwhile, Pedro and the Mets beat the Yanks 6-4 on a steamy night in the Bronx.
I'm gunna miss today's game as well. Instead, I'm heading down to Philly with some Red Sox friends of mine to see Boston play the Phils. I've never been to the new stadium down there--heck, I never went to the old one either--so it should be a good time.
Yo, there aren't many good things to say about last night's 9-4 Yankee loss to the Devil Rays, so I'm a keep this brief. At some point, resignation just has to set in for Yankee fans. What else can you do? Hang on to 1978 forever. Sure, they are still only five games out, but losing three of four to the D Rays twice? C'maaaan, man, ya killin me.
Bernie had a good night with the stick (though he fell asleep and let Julio Lugo turn a single into a double for no good reason too), with a homer, a double, and a hard, line drive out to short. Um, Jason Giambi hit the ball well too. He singled to left, and later bunted for a base hit in the ninth (he also lined out hard to left, and Carl Crawford did his best Sandy Amoros impression to rob the big man of a double). Yup, just what everyone has been begging for: Giambi bunted for a hit. Didn't do the team much good in the long run, but at least he had his head in the right place.
The Mets visit the Bronx this weekend in a battle of which local team is more mediocre. Any thoughts about that one? Come on, inspire me with some conversation will ya, because I'm fresh out of ideas.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are fifth in the American League (ninth in the majors) in runs scored. They're also fifth in the majors in EQA. Thus far this season they are 6-3 against the Yankees, who are second in the majors in both categories. The Devil Rays have now won seven games on the road this year, three of them in the Bronx. Tampa has scored 7.2 runs per game against the Yankees, scoring five or more in eight of their nine meetings. The Yankees have scored 7.4 runs against Tampa, scoring four or fewer runs in five of their nine meetings, but scoring a total of 39 runs in just two games.
Those are a lot of ugly numbers. Chien-Ming Wang, whom I'm officially dubbing the anchor of this Yankee rotation (Moose and Unit are the aces, Meat and Mr. Nasty are the question marks, Tiger is the anchor), looks to keep the top half of the scoreboard neat and tidy tonight as the Yanks try to save some face by salvaging a split of this four game series with the worst team in their league.
Wang's mound opponent is 6'9" lefty Mark Hendrickson (whose official name, by the way, is "6'9" Lefty Mark Hendrickson"). Hendrickson has some ugly numbers of his own (5.83 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 4.18 K/9, 1.50 K/BB, 1.27 HR/9, opponents hitting .322/.371/.516, 7.55 road ERA, 9.43 June ERA). The only thing Hendrickson does well is stifle lefties (.219/.269/.329). That should mean more bench time for Tony Mowack. Whether or not we'll see Russ Johnson (2 for 9 vs. lefties this year after an 0 for 2 against Scott Kazmir yesterday) get his second consecutive start at first, well, I doubt it, but we'll find out soon enough.
What's Wrong With Carl?
[note: I started to write the below in the comments to Alex's last post, responding to Simone's inquiries about Carl Pavano's ground-ball ratios and home run rates, but after I finished, I thought it deserved it's own post]
Shall we try the old blind taste test gimmick?
Pitcher A: 6.89 ERA, 1.91 HR/9, 6.32 K/9, 2.11 BB/9, 3.00 K/BB
Pitcher B: 2.49 ERA, 1.15 HR/9, 4.40 K/9, 1.15 BB/9, 3.83 K/BB
These pitchers are currently sharing a spot in the Yankee rotation. It sure would be nice if the team would let Pitcher B take over Pitcher A's starts? The problem is that they can't. You see, both of these pitchers are Carl Pavano. Pitcher B is Carl Pavano on the road. Pitcher A is Carl Pavano at home.
This is why Meat has been rotten. It's not his ground ball rates (Pavano has a career ground ball-to-fly ball ratio of 1.42, this year he's inducing 1.58 grounders for every fly). It's not even his home run rates. Observe:
Playing his home games in le Stad Olympique as an Expo from 1998 to 2002, Pavano gave up 1.09 HR/9, while his home park had an average park factor of 101.4. Playing his home games at Pro Player Stadium as a Marlin from 2002 to 2004, Pavano gave up 0.74 HR/9, while his home part had an average park factor of 95.3. Taking into account that Pavano spent his natural peak in a Florida uniform (ages 26-28) and that it was as a Marlin that he finally beat the injury bug and came into his own as a pitcher, those numbers make perfect sense. Pavano's 1.15 HR/9 on the road as a Yankee also fits logically with Meat's move from the National to American League and the 1.09 HR/9 he posted in the only slightly hitter-friendly Montreal as a National Leaguer.
What doesn't fit is that insane 1.91 HR/9 in Yankee Stadium, a park that has had a factor of 97 in each of the last two seasons (and a 98 in 2002). Which brings us right back to where we started.
Pavano's struggles in the Bronx are hard to explain in baseball terms, but the fact that he's a Connecticut kid who grew up in Yankee country could have something to do with it. If Pavano is simply dealing with some psychological issues (nerves, pressing, anxiety, what ever you want to call it) when it comes to pitching in Yankee Stadium (and, most likely, in front of more friends and family than he was accustomed to in Montreal and Miami), then one could hope that, as the initial excitement wears off and these starts become more routine, his home performance will fall closer in line with his road performance. If so, that would be a huge boost for the Yankees.
The question is, how long will that take. Pavano's first three Yankee Stadium starts this year (not counting the start against the Orioles in which he was beaned by a Melvin Mora comebacker) were his only quality starts at home on the season, the last of those coming against the A's on May 6. Things took a turn for the worse in that May 11 home game against the Mariners and Jamie Moyer in which Pavano was victimized by Alex Rodriguez's dreadful play at third base and a quartet of Seattle homers. So things would actually seem to be heading in the wrong direction were it not for his encouraging non-homer peripherals from yesterday's two-homer loss to the Devil Rays: 6 2/3 IP, 4 1B, 0 2B, 0 3B, 1 BB, 7 K.
Incidentally, if you take that one start against Seattle away, Pavano's home HR/9 drops to 1.26. Another crack in the wall between Pavano's home and road starts is that, despite that ridiculous home road split for HR/9, Pavano has allowed 20 extra base hits in 203 opposition at-bats at home and 18 extra base hits in 181 opposition at-bats on the road for an isolated power of .207 at home and .182 on the road, which, though continuing to demonstrate his inferior performance at home, isn't as extreme a split as his other numbers would suggest. Could it be that an effective pinstriped Carl Pavano is indeed on the horizon? If so, the Yankees may have more fight in 'em than we think. If not, well, you can probably write them off now.
Same Ol Song
In a season of stunning losses, you can make a case that this was the most alarming one of all. In the manager's office afterward, you could see it in Joe Torre's face. You could hear it in his tone of voice more than his words.
From what he's seen of the Yankees in the past week, Harper opines:
It's more of a sign than ever that they're destined to be an inconsistent club all season, talented enough to put together occasional hot streaks, but not complete enough to sustain the type of high-level performance that has marked the Torre era.
The Smell of Burning Hair
It all started innocently enough. Randy Johnson struck out Carl Crawford on three pitches, the first two looking, the third swinging. He then sat Julio Lugo down on five more and stranded Jorge Cantu at first base by getting Aubrey Huff to ground out to second. Clean, simple, and an apparent indication that Johnson was picking up where he left off last Thursday with his complete game against the Pirates.
Then Johnson started the second inning with a ball to Eduardo Perez. His next two pitches were sliders that Perez offered, but, at least according to home plate umpire Eric Cooper and first base ump Fieldin Culbreth, did not actually swing at. Down 3-0 in the count when he just as easily could have been up 1-2, Johnson wound up walking Perez on four pitches. Johnson then got Jonny Gomes to pop out to short on an 0-2 count and got called strike one on Damon Hollins and all appeared to be well.
Then Hollins and back-up catcher Kevin Cash homered on Johnson's next two pitches to put the Devil Rays up 3-0. Alex Gonzalez then singled on an 2-0 pitch and stole second on a first-pitch ball to Carl Crawford. Crawford then missed two pitches before yanking a third to deep right for an RBI triple. Johnson then got ahead of Julio Lugo 0-2 only to have Lugo single home Crawford. Just like that, the Devil Rays had scored five runs on Randy Johnson in the second inning.
The Yankees got one back in the bottom of the second on a Matsui walk, a Giambi ground rule double, and a Bernie Williams sac fly, but the D-Rays doubled that in the top of the third. Before Johnson could get the first out, Eduardo Perez doubled and Jonny Gomes homered to make it 7-1 Devil Rays.
Fool For Your Lovin' Nomo
The Yankees' Tag-Team Champions, Randy "Big Unit" Johnson and John "Flash" Flaherty, look to go 3-0 tonight against Hideo "The Tornado" Nomo and Toby "Or Not Toby" Hall. With Hall and Casey "Playing" Fossum having won the night before only because the umpires failed to disqualify Fossum for hitting Kevin "Mr. Nasty" Brown in the back with a folding chair, forcing the Yankees to replace him with Sean "Just Say" Henn, this is sure to be a grudge match on par with the British Bulldogs taking their revenge on the Dream Team after Greg "The Hammer" Valentine stole their mascot Mathilda.
Close Don't Count
Rookie Sean Henn walked seven batters in less than five innings of work last night. By the time he was relieved by Paul Quantrill, the Devil Rays had a 3-0 lead. A bloop single made it 4-0, and Tampa Bay added another run in the following inning. All of which seemed more than enough for Casey Fossum who cruised through the Yankee lineup for the first six innings (the first hit for the Bombers--a double by Hideki Matsui--didn't come until the fifth). Alex Rodriguez doubled to lead off the seventh, narrowly missing a home run (run dummy!), then Matsui walked. But the Yanks couldn't do anything else as Posada flew out to left, Giambi whiffed, and Williams grounded out to third.
In the eighth, however, Cano singled, chasing Fossum from the game. Lance Carter replaced him and promptly allowed a single to Jeter. After retiring Womack--who got an earful from the boo birds--Sheffield chopped a base hit to left scoring Cano. Rodriguez went fishing after a breaking ball and popped out to second, but then Matsui hooked a change up over the right field fence and the Yankees were suddenly down by just one run.
That was as close as they would get. Posada walked and Giambi whiffed again (he still can't catch up with those good heaters). Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, uncharacteristically walking two men. But the Bombers went down in order against Danys Baez in the bottom of the ninth, as the Devil Rays pulled out a 5-4 win.
"We've got to come out and play with our hair on fire, and I don't think we did that today," said Alex Rodriguez..."Today we were a little lazy."
Tonight gives Johnson vs. Nomo. Bank on the Yankees doing better.
The Return of the Devil Rays
Going into last week's series against Pittsburgh, the Yankees' record was 1/2 game worse than the Pirates'. Now, three days after sweeping the Pirates', the Yankees are 4 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh.
Going into this weekend's series against the Cubs, the Yankees record was 1 1/2 games worse than the Chicago's. Now, after sweeping them in three games, the Yankees are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs.
Tonight, going into a four game series against Tampa Bay, the Yankees have won six in a row, are 8-2 in their last ten games, are just five games out of first place and a whopping 13 1/2 games ahead of the Devil Rays, with whom they were once tied for last in the AL East. But that's nothing compared to the discrepancy between the Yankees' home record and the Devil Rays' road record:
Yanks Home: 22-13 (.629)
Wow! That's a 16-game difference over a sample of 35 games (33 for the Rays). One has to assume the Rays will find a way to win one of the next four games, but given those home and away records, it would be a major upset for them to do any better than that. Of course, that's how we all felt when the Yankees headed to Kansas City three weeks ago. Let's not forget that the Devil Rays have a 4-2 record against the Yankees on the season. This is how that happened:
Monday Morning Yentas
For great baseball gossip, there are no two guys better than Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal. Today, Rosenthal writes that the Mets might not move centerfielder Mike Cameron after all, while Gammons checks in on the Yanks:
The Yankees are trying to get Oakland's Mark Kotsay, who can be a free agent at the end of the year. But whether or not Brian Cashman will give up the prospects needed to get one of the game's premier center fielders, like right-hander Philip Hughes and perhaps third baseman Eric Duncan, remains to be seen. Cashman has talked to a number of general managers, but isn't offering to break up the team as some have suggested. Getting Kotsay would completely change their outfield defense and give them a solid leadoff hitter as they try to move Tony Womack.
Bombers Get the Bounces
"The Yankees are the best team we've seen all season...I don't know why they're a couple games over .500." Dusty Baker
Well, we've got ourselves an answer, Mr. Ciepley. The Cubs suck more...for now, at least. The Yanks beat Chicago 6-3 yesterday, sweeping the weekend series. It was New York's sixth consecutive win. (In a losing cause, Derek Lee went 6-12 in the three games.) Tyler Kepner has a good write up of the game in the New York Times this morning. The Devil Rays are in town for a four-game set starting tonight and then the Mets come in over the weekend, after which, we can finally put inter-league play to rest for the season.
My Mellow, My Man
I've written on numerous occasions over the past few seasons about what will happen to the Yanks After George. The $64,000 question is not "What will happen to the Bronx Bombers when Torre is gone?" but "What will happen when George is gone?" For anyone under 35 (I just turned 34), we simply don't know what a Yankee Universe is like without George. We're accustomed to his ways, for better or for worse. And though we've heard in the media that behind closed doors Steinbrenner is still as incorrigible as ever, publicly, he's a far cry from the Bronx Zoo Boss of the 1970s and '80s.
What? He called Hideki Irabu a slob in 1999, he traded for Mondesi a few years later, busted Don Zimmer's chops to no end, and took turns giving Derek Jeter and Joe Torre some grief too. This is all mild stuff coming out of Steinbrenner.
Yet when the Yanks struggle, there is great anticipation about "What George will do next?" I think the guy is a far cry from what he once was, and I'm guilty of expecting an explosion every now and again. You'd think this would be the year he'd let loose. Fire the pitching coach or the general manager: something, already.
But it's becoming increasingly clear that there will be no fireworks. Not in the same way we used to see. I was thinking about this last week, when I noticed that Tom Verducci hit on how George has changed in his recent mailbag column. In talking about Brian Cashman, Verducci wrote:
He works for a very different Steinbrenner than the stereotype people keep writing about (he's extremely sensitive now and hasn't fired anybody in years).
Picking up on this theme, Mike Lupica has an outstanding piece on Steinbrenner today in the Daily News. I grew up reading Lupica, and though I've never admired him as a stylist, I respect the fact that he's been covered Steinbrenner and the Yankees for close to thirty years. When he's good, Lupica still can hit the nail right on the head. He doesn't often write long articles anymore, but this one is choice:
Anybody who watched his recent interview on YES with Michael Kay or watched this staged media event the other day, has to know that the Boss Steinbrenner that is still written about and discussed on television and the radio does not exist. He can still blow his top. He can still make a headline. But he is as real now as the young Mike Tyson is real.
Lupica speculates who might take control once George steps down, and how it will impact the organization. He doesn't think it looks promising, and I have to agree. There has been a lot to dislike about Steinbrenner over the years, but he also has tried to put a winning team on the field, no matter the cost. Some Yankee fans might grow to really miss him once he's gone. (Last year, Allen Barra wrote an appreciation of Steinbrenner for the Village Voice, and suggested that we should be thankful for what Boss George has given us now...six world championships and ten World Series appearances in just over thirty years.) Lupica believes that those days are close to being over. Then, in his own, inimitable way, he calls it like it is:
It is obvious by now that love Steinbrenner or hate him, there will never be another owner, in any city in any sport, like him.
That's the fact, Jack.
Ain't It Just Grand?
Well, it finally happened. After 155 career plate appearances with the bases loaded, Derek Jeter hit his first Major League grand slam this afternoon as the Yanks bombed Chicago, 8-1 at the stadium. Emily and I were listening to the game in the car and I called the homer. It's not like this is the first time I--or any number of Yankee fans, for that matter--have called Jeter's first grand slam, but it was the first time I was right. The way I figured it, Alex Ciepley was still at the game. I know he was going to leave early so that he could get home in time to get ready for his party tonight, but it was the bottom of the sixth and the game was still close (Yanks 3, Cubs 1). Alex can't sand Jeter, so I figured it would make perfect sense that Jeter would do something memorable. (For good measure, Jeter added a solo shot in the eighth.)
The crowd went wild and I'm sure the entire scene drove Ciepley out of the Bronx with the quickness. Chien-Ming Wang pitched a beautifully efficient game and the Yanks won their fifth straight.
Wham, Bam, the Monster Jam
Well, so far, the Yankees suck less. Or the Cubs suck more. However you want to put it. I was at the game last night with Alex Ciepley and my brother Ben. We sat in the front row of the upper deck, about twenty seats to the right of the right field foul pole. I had never been anywhere near that spot before so it the view was interesting. The sun was in our face for the first couple of innings, and after that, we saw some striking cloud formations in the distance. It was supposed to rain, but it never did. It was cool and breezy, really a perfect spring night at the ballpark.
There were lots of Cub fans at the Stadium and they made lots of noise during the middle innings. They didn't antagonize the home crowd, they were just happy to cheer and get loud for their guys. We saw only a few fights, including what looked like something nasty about ten rows behind home plate in the seventh inning, but otherwise, everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. There was a couple sitting behind us who came all the way from Illinois. The woman went to high school with Joe Girardi, even typed his senior thesis. Girardi's parents actually introduced the couple, who left, without saying goodbye in the eighth inning.
That's when Ciepley told me that it's a myth that folks from the midwest are friendly. He said mostly they are anti-social and weird.
There was a pretty funny heckler sitting to our left. The kind of guy who shouted random insults at the Yankees at random times. He loved giving Sheffield the business for no apparent reason. He told us, with great delight, about how when he sat downstairs, they used to give Mondesi all sorts of abuse. (Speaking of Sheff, my brother noted that he looks like he's dogging it some lately. His name is popping up in phatom rumors. What gives? Anyone noticed anything off about him? And why would the Yanks want to trade him of all people?)
Carlos Zambrano wasn't on his A-game, though Carl Pavano did everything he could to let him off the hook. (Zambrano is a gorilla. He reminds me of a combination of Rich Garces and Juaquin Andujar. You can see he's often dominant.) Eventually, Hideki Matsui came through with two huge hits off of Chicago's bullpen, as the Yankees came-from-behind to take the first game of the series, 9-6. Derek Lee had his usual two hits. Bernie Williams added two of his own, and Alex Rodriguez had three.
Ciepley will be at the game again the afternoon (then he's got a birthday bash tonight downtown with some of his pals). As for me, Emily and I are headed up to the country to do some strawberry pickin. Who knows, maybe we'll--I'll--get ambitious and make some jaw when it is all said and done. Anyhow, should prove to be a fruity day, no matter how you slice it.
Things are really looking up in Yankee land. The team is back over .500 for the first time in almost two weeks. They now have third place in the AL East to themselves, having picked up a half-game on the Blue Jays who were idle last night. They're 5-2 in their last seven games. And, most importantly, this latest winning streak can be directly tied to the improvements made by several of the team's key players.
In the rotation, Randy Johnson has been downright nasty in his last two starts (18 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 1 HR, 0 BB, 18 K), Mike Mussina's last outing was his second shutout of the year, even tonight's starter, Carl "Meat" Pavano, has been solid in his last two outings (12 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 5 K). And, while Tanyon Sturtze has suddenly given up homers in each of the last three innings he's pitched, adding almost a run and a half to his season ERA (though those are the only three homers he's allowed all year), Mariano Rivera is as lights out as he's ever been. Don't look now, but Mo's rate stats look like this: 1.09 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.58 K/9. The K-rate is Mo's highest since 1996, while the ERA is more than a half run better than his career high.
On offense, the big news is that Jason Giambi is starting to catch up with those 90-plus mile per hour fastballs. As a result, a full thirty percent of his extra base hits on the year have come in the last three games. Similarly, Hideki Matsui, who has a hit in all but three games this month, has hit a full third of his homers in the last three games. Matsui's sudden power stroke is a direct result of the mild ankle sprain he suffered while playing right field in St. Louis. Unable to put too much weight on his right (front) ankle, Matsui is keeping his weight back and driving the ball. As a result, half of his extra base hits in June have come while DHing due to the sprain. (Hitting Coach Don Mattingly has reportedly threatened to whack Matsui in the ankle with a bat if he reverts to lunging at the ball once his ankle heals).
With everything going their way, the Yankees now get their biggest challenge since the Red Sox sent them packing on the Road Trip From Hell (no disrespect to the Twins there, but the Yankees weren't in challenge-facing mood when they hit Minnesota--by the way speaking of that road trip, the Kansas City Royals are now 11-4 under new manager Buddy Bell and just completed a three-game sweep of the Dodgers last night).
Where was I? Oh yes:
The Big Unit made short work of the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight at the Stadium as the Yankees cruised to a 6-1 win through the raindrops in the Bronx. Johnson allowed five hits, including a solo home run by Michael Restovich, but the Pirates were never really in the game. Johnson began the game by striking out the first two batters on six pitches. He ended the game by mowing down Daryl Ward for his eleventh K of the night. The Big Unit's slider has far more bite to it than it did earlier in the year--Jose Castillo swung through one that actually hit him on the right thigh in third inning. Johnson was in a foul, competitive mood all evening, growling over pitches that weren't called strikes, cursing at himself when the Pirates hit the ball hard. He was dominant: 86 of the 110 pitches he threw were strikes.
His counterpart Oliver Perez wasn't nearly as sharp. I've read about Perez's involved delivery, and he seems to have body parts moving every which way. (His motion is almost as complicated and intricate as his facial hair.) During the early innings he was too hyper, bouncing off the mound after several pitches as if he had a hot foot. Perez is dynamic and he's clearly got very good stuff, but his location was off, and the Yankees scored all six runs in the first four innings. Hideki Matsui cranked a two-run bomb halfway up the right-center field bleachers in the first, Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano had RBI hits in the second, and Gary Sheffield had an excuse-me, bases loaded double in the fourth. That was all the Yankees would need, as Johnson polished off the Pirates in two hours and nineteen minutes.
Done and done.
Jason Giambi's game-winning home run in the bottom of the tenth last night not only clinched the Yankees' first series win since they swept Detroit at home back on May 24-26, but gives us all the opportunity to enjoy tonight's stellar pitching match-up without having to worry about the Yanks dropping their sixth straight series.
Instead, we'll get Randy Johnson vs. Oliver Perez in all their glory with the Yankees now 4-2 over their last six games (that's .667 baseball, people!) and Johnson coming off his strongest start of the year. The one negative result of that last start, his first with John Flaherty behind the plate, is that Johnson now wants to use Flaherty as his personal catcher, something Joe Torre doesn't mind, but Flaherty himself admirably finds problematic:
"I guess it works for some guys, like when Greg Maddux had Charlie O'Brien and then Eddie Perez. I'm not really a believer in it. First and foremost, we've got an All-Star guy here [Posada] who's always a threat to hit the ball out of the yard and does a great job. Besides, when [Johnson's] on, it doesn't really matter who's behind the plate."
Indeed, Posada was 2 for 4 last night with a solo homer to start the scoring and a key RBI double in the ninth to force extra innings. But then, like Flaherty says (though with a different meaning), when Johnson's on, it doesn't really matter who's behind the plate. And if his inconsistency thus far this season has you worried, perhaps you'll find some consolation in this observation from Steve Lombardi at Was Watching:
In 2004, Randy Johnson had a Game Score of 76+ ten times. And, on five other times, he was above 72. So, last season, Unit was over 72 in 43% of his starts.
For those of you scoring at home, today is June 16.
On the other side of the ball, Oliver Perez is also coming off his best start of the year in which he dominated the Devil Rays for seven innings with this line: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 HR, 1 BB, 10 K, 94 pitches, 67 percent strikes. Perez had been scuffling, turning in just one quality start in his first nine tries, but his last two starts have both been excellent (the other against Atlanta: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 BB, 7 K). And in case the fact that two excellent power lefties facing each other wasn't exciting enough, check out these selections from the ESPN scouting report for Perez:
Perez can often be dominating with his power arsenal. He can throw his fastball as high as 97 MPH, though it is usually sits in the 90-94 MPH range. Perez has two kinds of sliders, one with a sharp late break against righthanded hitters and another that sweeps and eats up lefties. . . . Perez is fragile looking with thin legs but has good stamina and keeps his stuff deep into games.
Remind you of anyone?
One final note: the Yankees have sent down Andy Phillips in favor of Bubba Crosby, whom I was certain would never again be seen in Yankee pinstripes. Though some may hope that this is a sign of an imminent Tony Womack trade, it's more likely an indication of the condition of Hideki Matsui's ankle, as Joe Torre continues to refuse to predict when Matsui might return to the field.
It had all the makings of another frustrating game for the Yankees. They couldn't come up with a timely hit and the Pirates kept tacking on runs. Not only that, but when the Yankees did hit the ball hard it tended to be directly at a Pittsburgh defender. The Pirates boast a slick defensive infield, and they strutted their stuff all evening long. But with a little bit of luck (in the form of a missed call that would have ended the game in the ninth, as well as a ball that hit Russ Johnson in the tenth), the Yankees finally earned a come-from-behind victory, as Jason Giambi's moonshot off of Jose Mesa sent Yankee fans to bed with a smile on their face. The final was 7-5, and the Bombers didn't lose ground to the Orioles and the Red Sox, who both won as well.
Giambi couldn't catch up to southpaw Mike Gonzalez's gas in the eighth inning, but Mesa couldn't sneak the heater past him in the tenth. I called Cliff a few minutes after the game ended and he said something to the effect that Jose Mesa is good for what ails ya. Amen to that, brother. The Yanks pounded out fifteen hits in all. Kevin Brown had to leave the game due to back spasms, and Tanyon Sturtze was roughed up again, but Mariano Rivera dominated the Pirates for two innings, lowering his season earned run average to 1.09 in the process. After a one-two-three ninth, Rivera clapped his hands and encouraged his team in the dugout.
With Gary Sheffield on first and two out, Alex Rodriguez came to the plate. The Yanks trailed by one run. Rodriguez missed a room service fastball with the count 1-1, and I thought that might be the game right there. Man, was it ever a fat pitch. As much as I think the notion of Rodriguez as a choker is nuts, I admit that in a tight situation I don't have the same confidence in him that I do with, say Sheffield. Nevertheless, Rodriguez was patient, and eventually muscled a good fastball that was bearing in on his hands into center for a single. Jorge Posada followed and laced a line drive into right, which tied the game.
After Tino Martinez walked to lead off the bottom of the tenth, Russ Johnson came into the game as a pinch-runner. Increasingly disgruntled left fielder Tony Womack, who replaced Ruben Sierra in left an inning earlier, was set to sacrifice him to second. After several pitches the Pirates called a pitch-out. Johnson was running. Hung up, he retreated to first. But the throw hit him and he made it back safely. At that point I turned to Emily and said, "There is just too much going right for them tonight to lose this one." Fortunately, I was right, and I couldn't be happier for Giambi, who absolutely crushed the ball into the upper deck, momentarily turning the jeers to cheers. After he was mobbed at home plate, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez all took the time to not only hug Giambi, but give him some words of encouragment too. Good for the Big Lug. And kudos to the whole team.
In the three games since their embarrassing Keyston Kops routine on Friday night in St. Louis, the Yankees have played some of their crispest baseball of the year. Accordingly, they've gone 2-1 in those games, twice shutting out their opponent, holding a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning of the one loss, and outscoring their foes 17-5 in the three games combined. Going back to the final game of their Series in Milwaukee, the Yankees are 3-2 in their last five games, a small, but significant sample in that it represents their first winning stretch since late May.
Last night's victory behind Mike Mussina's second shutout of the year (his most since 2002) moved the Yankees 1/2 game ahead of the Pirates and within one game of .500, a mark they've not equaled in a week and a half. The Yankees also moved into a third-place tie with the Blue Jays in the AL East, 3.5 games behind the Red Sox and 6.5 games behind the first-place Orioles.
Tonight they send Kevin Brown to the mound to face lefty Mark Redman, whom the Yankees handled easily when they last met in Game 2 of the 2003 World Series. In thirteen starts for the Pirates this year, Redman has failed to deliver a quality start (minimum 6 IP, maximum 3 ER) just once, that coming against the Cardinals four starts ago. The reason for Redman's strong performance has been a combination of a career-high ground-ball rate (2.04 ground balls for every fly ball, twice his usual rate) and the Pirates' NL-best Defensive Efficiency. Thus the key for the Yankees tonight will be to try to hit the ball in the air, particularly to center field, where Rob Mackowiak and Tike Redman represent the Achilles heal of the Pirates' defense.
Mark Redman's consistency also puts the pressure on Brown, who has a superior strike-out rate, a similar ground ball rate, but the second worst defense in baseball (pity Cincinnati) behind him. As a result, hitters are hitting exactly .100 points higher against Brown than they are against Redman. That may not all be due to their respective defenders, but I'd guess that a great deal of it is.
On a more encouraging note, the Yankees did the right thing when disabling Rey Sanchez yesterday in that they called up, not Felix Escalona, but Andy Phillips. With the Yankees facing two left handers in three of their next four games (Redman tonight, Oliver Perez tomorrow, and Glendon Rusch on Saturday), Tino Martinez cold as ice, and Jason Giambi pulling his OBP-only routine (his double off the 408 sign in center last night was just his second extra-base since May 18, and only his fourth since April 20), one hopes that Andy Phillips will get multiple starts at first base in the coming days, thus getting a second chance to establish himself in the Yankee line-up.
That trio of lefty starters might also lead to some bench time for Tony Womack, who, in addition to being useless to begin with, has started hitting everything in the air, which is death for a slap-hitting speedster of his ilk. Allow me to repeat one of my favorite anecdotes from Whitey Herzog's You're Missing a Great Game concerning Herzog's advice to a young Willie Wilson, who was swinging for the fences as a rookie for Kansas City in the mid-'70s:
I still don't understand what in the hell told him he had home-run pop in his bat . . . the fly balls he hit just gave the outfielders a long way to run before the catch . . . He might get his 12 homers, but the rest of the time he was going to make himself and out, kill our rallies, and put the Kansas City fans in a coma.
A few walks wouldn't hurt either. According to baseball's free agency rules, today is the first day that teams can trade their first-year free agents (such as Womack) without their permission. Here's hoping those lefties will get Womack out of the line-up, and Cashman's new freedom to trade him will get Womack out of pinstripes for good.
In more lefty news, Steven Goldman tells me that, despite correctly leaving the righty-batting middle infielder Escalona in Columbus, the Yankees are indeed looking to sit Robinson Cano against lefties. It will be interesting to see if this results in a second base start for Phillips or Russ Johnson (something I'd approve of, as it could decrease the likelihood of either being demoted any time soon). Meanwhile, I'll be fantasizing of an every-day line-up that looks like this:
"Sure we're concerned," [George] Steinbrenner said. "Until we're in first place, we're concerned. But we're doing all right."
"We came out and scored, kept putting pressure on them and we played good defense," Mussina said. "It was just a night I was glad to be pitching. I got some breaks, got some runs scored for us."
Considering how poorly they've played, it's notable that nobody has publicly gone nutzo, from George on down. Lots of meetings, yeah, but no tirades yet. This team might be a lot of things, but the Bronx Zoo they ain't. (Hey, the New Age Bronx Zoo is alive and well in the City of Angels.) While neither Bernie Williams and Tony Womack aren't thrilled about how their seasons are going, neither has pitched a fit. Steven Goldman, president of the T. Womack Fan Club observed recently:
If I were him, I wouldn't be disgruntled, I'd be embarrassed. The New York Times reports that Mr. Torre is thinking of trying Womack in center field. Unless this is a clever ruse to increase Womack's trade value, it is, charitably, insane. There is nowhere on the playing field that you can hide a Womack, and he won't help the defense any.
I figure Womack will be traded before the summer is out.
2004 Record: 72-89 (.447)
Manager: Lloyd McClendon
Ballpark (2004 park factors): PNC Park (96/96)
Who's replacing whom?
Matt Lawton replaces Jason Kendall
1B Daryle Ward
R - Freddy Sanchez (IF)
R Kip Wells
R Jose Mesa
R - Craig A. Wilson (OF/1B)
L Matt Lawton (RF)
Entering a three game series with the Yankees tonight, the Pirates have a .492 actual and .519 Pythagorean winning percentage, both of which are better than the Yankees' marks (.484 and .505 respectively). The Pirates are currently three games ahead of the Brewers in third place in the NL Central (the Yankees are still languishing a game behind the Blue Jays in fourth in the AL East).
Last week, when the Yankees began a three-game series in Milwaukee, the Brewers had a .464 winning percentage, but a .549 Pythagorean winning percentage. The Brewers then proceeded to take the first two games of that series before losing the third 12-3. Since then Milwaukee has lost four more, for a five-game losing streak that's dropped them to a .444 actual and .509 Pythagorean winning percentage. The Pirates, meanwhile, are 7-4 in June, having won their last four series (against the Devil Rays, Orioles, Braves and Marlins), this on top of a winning record in May (15-13).
So much for Milwaukee and Pittsburgh providing the Yankees with an opportunity to pad their record. More on how the Pirates have been winning (tonight's starter, Kip Wells, has been a big part of it) later.
Shake It Up
Some quick notes as the Yankees recover from the 3-9 beating they took on their just-completed romp through the heartland:
Rey Sanchez has two bulging disks in his neck and may land on the DL prior to the Pirates series. Should that happen, the Yanks are expected to call up Felix Escalona, following the logic that Sanchez is a back-up infielder and thus should be replaced by one. This is, of course, nonsense. Tony Womack should be sent to the bench, where he can back-up Cano at second. Alex Rodriguez can back-up Jeter at short, and Russ Johnson can back-up Rodriguez at third. There is no need for an extra infielder on this team.
By that logic, it would seem there's no need for Sanchez on this team, which is something I've been saying since spring training. Upon closer examination, however, Sanchez could be useful as a spot-starter at second against lefties (Cano vs L: 3/29, 1 HR, 1 BB--.122 GPA; Sanchez vs L since 2002: .285/.328/.369--.240). That is unless you believe this season is a lost cause and the Yankees would be better off exposing Cano to lefties now in the hopes that he can learn to hit them, making him a more complete player for next year and beyond. With the Yanks two games under .500 less than a month from the All-Star Game but just six back in the AL East in mid-June, I change my mind about this several times a day.
As for Escalona's ability at the plate, his .308/.371/.431 (.275 GPA) as the Clippers' starting shortstop last year was head and shoulders above anything he'd done outside of A-ball. This year, at age 26, he's hitting .279/.364/.413 (.267), a solid-follow up to his break-out 2004 campaign. But solid at triple-A is not reason enough to put a guy on the major league roster. Crushing at triple-A is. For that, we turn to Andy Phillips, who is hitting .340/.389/.670 (.343) with Columbus on the heels of a .318/.388/.569 (.317) performance with the Clippers in 2004. I know Andy fell into a rut when he was here previously, but with Tino 3 for his last 35 with a double and just three walks (.088/.158/.114) and a roster spot opening up, I think it's time for Phillips to get his second shot to nab the starting job at first base. Besides which, Phillips, like Russ Johnson, can play several infield positions and is serviceable as a back-up outfielder. This team is better with those two men in the Bronx and Andy Phillips could make this team better in the future as well.
Speaking of Tony Womack (I did mention him back there somewhere), according to The New York Times Joe Torre is thinking about moving him into center field, which would allow Hideki Matsui to stay put in left, where he's a much better defender than he is in center. Meanwhile, Womack (who of course shouldn't be starting at all, but we'll get to that shortly) has the potential to improve on Matsui's defense center thanks to his speed (something I had suggested when initial move of Womack to the outfield was made in early May). There are also rumblings that Womack is rumbling about playing the outfield, telling the press (when asked) that he still considers himself a second baseman. There are also rumblings that there are rumblings that could result in a more significant roster moves than Escalona-for-Sanchez-due-to-injury. Sez Brian Cashman, "I've got a lot of things going on behind the scenes." This after he was seen talking with Womack twice on Sunday.
Could Womack, whose $2 million salary and stellar reputation combined with complete lack of production makes him a top trade candidate, be on the move? We can only hope. In the mean time, Womack could be seen in centerfield during the upcoming home stand, even as soon as tomorrow's game against the Pirates.
In a related story, Hideki Matsui celebrated his 31st birthday yesterday with a clutch hit and a sprained ankle (he slipped while making a play in right field, where he was starting in place of the resting Gary Sheffield). That puts both his consecutive games streak and Tony Womack's centerfield debut in jeopardy, as there have been no further rumblings about Bernie Williams playing left field. That suggests that Womack moving to center and being shopped could mean that the Yankees are indeed in the market for a real-life centerfielder (oh pleasepleasepleaseplease).
As for Matsui's prognosis, despite leaning on Gene Monahan when coming off the field yesterday, wasn't limping noticeably once back in the dugout, and will likely keep his streak intact, even if it comes via a DH start or a pinch-hitting appearance.
And thus concludes another post that would have been largely unnecessary had the Yankees ponied up for Carlos Beltran.
The Yanks and Cards played a reasonably crisp game yesterday. St. Louis came up with the big hits against the Yankee bullpen, good enough for a 5-3 victory. The Bombers went 3-9 on the road trip, and have lost 11 of 14. Remarkably, they are still only six games behind the first place Orioles.
The team has the day off today. Next, Pittsburgh is in town for three, followed by a fun match-up with the Cubs this weekend. Anyone got anything interesting to say about any of this? Right now, I've got nuthin for ya man.
Which One of Dese?
Man, I've got no strong feelings about today's game, in terms of what the outcome will be. Part of me thinks that Matt Morris will do very well and that the better team will win. But the other half of me just has to believe that the Yanks can take it. Come on fellas, let's get the led out, willya, huh?
Now, That's Mo Like It
With Bob Gibson in the house, Randy Johnson pitched angry yesterday, and turned in his finest performance as a Yankee. The Big Unit threw seven shutout innings, and while Flash Gordon worked into trouble in the eighth, Mariano Rivera saved his bacon, striking out pinch-hitter Larry Walker looking on a 3-2 pitch to end the frame. Rivera got Albert Pujols to pop out in foul ground to Tino Martinez, and then struck out the next two batters in the ninth to nail down the Yankees' 5-0 win.
Alex Rodrgiguez drove in the first and last runs of the game, while Derek Jeter had a big two-out, two RBI single. Godziller Matsui followed and double Jeter home, as the Yanks rebounded from their horrid Friday night performance.
Here's some quotes from around Yankee Land.
According to the St. Louis Post- Dispatch:
Catcher John Flaherty said: "This is the guy that we thought we were getting (from the Arizona Diamondbacks). When you get ripped by your manager like we did, the best guy to have on the mound is a dominating lefthander."
"I am upset," Steinbrenner said through his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, but added, "I have confidence in (Torre). He is safe. He has said he can turn this around. Let's see if he can do it."
Finally, here's Filip Bondy on Bernie Williams:
"If I'm consistent about one thing, it's that I stink at the beginning of each and every season," Williams told a writer, explaining that it is nearly impossible now for him to find any rhythm. "Then I always make it happen. It's frustrating when you're not given that opportunity. I still get to wear the uniform, and that gives me great pride. But they always stress loyalty to the team during contract talks, and then that only goes so far when it's the other way."
Huge game for New York this afternoon. If they can pull out a win, they will return home with some dignity. If not, after this disheartening stretch, it will be a long trip back East.
Duck and Cover
Having taken the final game in Milwaukee, the Yankees have already exceeded my expectations for the second half of this road trip. Having bollocksed away yesterday's game, they're right on target for my expectations of this weekend. Today they get to tangle with Mark Mulder and the alleged Game of the Week curse. Randy Johnson will have his work cut out for him to say the least. One things for certain, we're not likely to see Jason Giambi starting at first base today.
Woe is Us
The Yankees did their best Chico's Bail Bonds impression last night, kicking the ball around, and playing themselves out of the game early, in a pathetic 8-1 loss to the Cardinals. It was such a depressing performance that I uncharacteristically found myself flipping through the channels by the middle innings because I simply couldn't watch anymore. It's not a matter of jumping ship, but if they aren't going to show up, why should we?
Derek Jeter was visibly livid on the bench during the game, and Joe Torre lit into the team once again when it was over:
"It was an embarrassing game," Torre said after emerging from yet another team meeting. "This is the worst. This one stands on its own."
Luis Sojo said it was the angriest he's ever seen Torre; Bernie Williams said he's seen him more upset, but nevertheless, Torre got his point across. Alex Rodriguez summed it up well:
"This is certainly rock bottom for this team," he said. "Not just because we lost, but because of the fashion we lost in. It was just very embarrassing to be out there."
The Yanks are saying all the right things. But talk is cheap. They need to get their collective head out of their ass on the field. At some point, you have to imagine that heads are going to roll.
St. Louis Cardinals
2004 Record: 105-57 (.648)
Manager: Tony LaRussa
Ballpark (2004 park factors): Busch Stadium (97/97)
Who's replacing whom?
Mark Grudzielanek replaces Edgar Renteria
1B Albert Pujols
L John Mabry (UT)
L Mark Mulder
R Jason Isringhausen
R Scott Rolen (3B)
R David Eckstein (SS)
The Cardinals calling card is their quartet of Hall of Fame-quality sluggers: Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker. But with Rolen on the DL with a shoulder injury (replaced by Pirates castoff Abraham Nunez and the Yankee's one-time answer to Moonlight Graham, Scott Seabol), and Walker hitting a pedestrian .245/.347/.417 (.265 EQA) at age 38 in his first full season outside of Colorado since 1994, it's time to give credit to their pitching for their recent dominance of the National League.
Speaking of nyerds, one of the nyerdest things to do is keep score at a baseball game (and if you are doing it at home, which I've tried on a few occasions, you are flat-out phreak). I never had the patience to do it when I was a kid. I also didn't have anyone teach me either, and I think this is the sort of thing that is handed down from generation-to-generation. But about six or seven years ago, I started teaching myself how to do it. At first, I'd only last a few innings, but soon enough, I caught the bug. Actually, I think it appealed to my artistic nature, first and foremost. The idea of having a personalized record, complete with random notes, and little drawings, was appealing. Plus, it gave me a way to burn some nervous energy, doodling around, while I was at the game. I think I know the "correct" symbols to use now, but I still use half of my own notations, cause it's just more fun that way.
Anyhow, I've come to appreciate people who keep score. Remember the story in the Times a few weeks ago about the woman who has been scoring Yankee games since the early 70s? Jay Jaffe has scorecards from when he was a kid, and I know Cliff is an expert scorekeeper. (Red Barber gives a lesson on how to keep score in his book "The Broadcasters" I believe.) A few days ago, Bob Ryan wrote a fun piece in the Boston Globe detailing his obsession with keeping score:
Why do I do this? If you have to ask, you wouldn't understand. Anyway, it's a good way to meet people. People will see me with my book in a minor league park and say, "Are you a scout, or somethin'?" And I say, "No, I'm just a baseball fan who likes to keep score."
It'd be great to run a series of people's scorecards, don't you think? If anyone has any good ones, make a j-peg of them and send it along to us. At least we could see what everyone's penmanship is like.
You Could Look it Up
Our pal Steve Lombardi, who runs the excellent "Was Watching" Yankee blog, has written his first book, "The Baseball Same Game." Using advanced metrics, Lombardi's book compares players from different eras who has similar lifetime statistics. Fun for the baseball nyerds everywhere. In the true blogger spirit, Steve's book is self-published, something Cliff and I both greatly admire. Check out his site for reviews and consider "The Baseball Same Game" as an ideal Father's Day goody. Dude, it's better than a tie.
Jerry Seinfeld once said that rooting for a single sports team over a long stretch of time ultimately means that one is rooting not for the players, or even for the coaches or owners, but for the uniform. "Basically," reasoned Seinfeld, "you're rooting for laundry." This is not entirely true (after all, if it were, how would one explain Diamonbacks fans?), but there is a kernal of truth there, even if most teams change their uniforms much more often than they change ownership.
I myself have always enjoyed the history of the ever-changing baseball uniform, and as a result have delighted to the writings of Paul Lukas, whose Uni-Watch column was, along with Allan Barra, one of the reasons why the Village Voice's late one-page sports section was such a delight. Like Barra, Lukas initially moved to Slate.com after the Voice dropped sports. Last August, Lukas found a home on ESPN's Page 2, where Uni-Watch now appears two or three times a month.
The latest Uni-Watch concerns an issue that is close to any baseball traditionalist's heart: the stirrup sock, which just might be making a comeback thanks to, appropriately enough, the Red Sox. It burns me to say it, but I have to give props to the Sox high-sock contingent (Nixon, Mueller, Bellhorn and Millar), who have started wearing stirrups rather than plain red socks. Moreover, Lukas (perhaps unwittingly) reveals a hidden truth about Curt Schilling's ACLS stigmata: had Schilling not been a stirrup-wearer, the Bloody Sock never would have been. Much as that would have made me very happy, I still long for the days of the classic stirrup and continue to hope that they will soon return to banish what Lukas calls the pajama brigade, which I believe started with Scott Erickson's break out year with the eventual World Champion Twins in 1991.
On a related note, fellow Toaster Alex Ciepley takes a look at the various types of goatees being sported around the league. I for one can't stand the goatee (or Van Dyke for you facial hair sticklers out there). I remember when they broke into the league in the early '90s on the faces of men such as Mark McGwire and Dan Gladden as grunge swept the nation and haphazard shaving became all the rage, turning us into a nation of evil twins. Despite my dislike for the style, even I couldn't resist trying one out for about three days in 1993 just for yucks (though I was more Maynard G. Krebs than evil twin). That was more then a decade ago and the damn things just won't go away. To add insult to injury, Alex not only drags Goose Gossage's fu-manchu (a facial styling I also once emulated, resulting in something closer to James Hetfield) into the discussion, but calls Matt Clement's facial merkin "infinitely more appealing," than Gossages Hall-worthy stash. Well, I never!
To my memory, Goose was the only non captain to successfully circumvent Boss Steinbrenner's rule against facial hair below the corners of the mouth (though in recent years David Wells, Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi have all gotten a bit lazy with the sublingual shaving at one time or another, none of them got past the Don Johnson/George Michael stage). Thurman Munson's 1976 Topps card remains the only time I've ever seen a Steinbrenner-era Yankee with full-grown hairs on his chiny-chin-chin, and while I think Thurman looked good in a full beard, I think the Yankees, whose uniforms have remained virtually unchanged for nearly 70 years, are better for it.
There were lots of reasons for Yankee fans to smile last night as the Bronx Bombers beat up on the Brewers, 12-3. Joe Torre, veins bulging from his neck, saying everything he could to get run by Larry Vanover in the sixth inning was my favorite, but Alex Rodriguez stole the show, going 4-4, hitting two home runs, and, in the process, becoming the youngest player in the history of the game to reach 400 for his career. (Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano added solo shots of their own; man, ever notice how all of Jeter's dingers come in meaningless situations...That's a gag, son--gag, that is.) Though Rodriguez still hasn't won over some Yankee fans, he's one of the more remarkable players of his generation. Yeah, he's a prima dona, but so are most superstars. The guy works hard, and plays hard. Currently leading the league in homers, runs scored and runs batted in, he's having a fine season, aside from some notable defensive lapses. All I can say is that I sure appreciate watching him play.
O.K., man, forget this, garbage: The Yanks are going to spank the Brewers tonight, and that's that.
The Write Way and the Wrong Way
I generally try to avoid commenting on the mainstream sports media, in part because I rarely bother to read, watch or listen to it. I get all I need from the outstanding community of bloggers of which I'm privileged to be a part and independent on-line powerhouses such as Baseball Prospectus. MLB.com gives me the quotes and news of a roster move or a change in the rotation and ESPN.com is useful for their stats and pitch-by-pitch data, but neither offer much in the way of useful commentary (though ESPN boasts some top columnists). The daily papers are generally worse than redundant.
Still, sometimes when things take an unexpected turn, I like to breeze through the dailies, or dial on over to WFAN to find out how the mainstream is presenting things. In doing so today, I happened upon a pair of articles in The Star-Ledger that are fairly unexceptional on their own, but are fascinating taken together.
For one reason or another, Star-Ledger staffers Ed Price and Dan Graziano have tackled the exact same topic in today's paper. That topic is, of course: "what is wrong with the Yankees and how can they fix it?" What's fascinating is not only that the paper would run two articles on the same exact topic in the same day's paper, but that the quality of the two articles would be so divergent.
Read it and Sheet
It was too little too late once again for the Yanks last night, as a ninth inning rally fell short, and the team lost again, this time 2-1. How about these sobering facts:
"We're right where we deserve to be," Jeter said. "We haven't played well."
As bad as things have been for the Yankees, there hasn't been much speculation about Joe Torre. There probably should be. A team's lack of talent or desire or luck can't be held against a manager, but what can and should be is careless play and a failure to get the most out of the talent on hand. Never the greatest tactician, Torre's strength for nearly a decade has been his ability to get the most out of veteran players. If he's not doing that, what use is he?
I don't think Torre will be fired, but if this keeps up, Steinbrenner is going to sack somebody.
The Future, Conan?
I didn't expect to pay much attention to this year's amateur draft, but with the big club flailing about in Milwaukee, the picks the Yankees have made today (thus far the next Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield--in a perfect world, that is) are providing some hope as the Yankees seem to be doing a fair job of restocking their farm system, with three of their first four picks being used on college players. You can check out some of the comments to my previous post for more info, which I hope to assemble into a draft-wrap post tomorrow.
Meanwhile, back in the suffocating reality of the here and now, the Yankees will try to avoid dropping their fourth straight series tonight against the Brewers. To do so, they'll have to defeat Ben Sheets, who was nothing short of the third best pitcher in the majors last year (behind Johan Santana and Randy Johnson and well in front of the boosted Rocket). Sheets is looking to get his season back on track following a reoccurring inner ear infection that hospitalized him in May. Thus far he's made two starts since returning from the DL, lasting just five innings in each, showing the old form against the struggling Astros in the first only to be undermined by his defense, but struggling against the Dodgers in the second. Don't be surprised to see him put it all together against the Yankees tonight (not that I thought you would be).
When things get rough, just dream about C.J. Henry.
A little over three weeks ago, on Sunday May 15 in Oakland, the Yankees put together a two run seventh inning rally against A's reliever Ricardo Rincon to beat the Athletics 6-4. The victory was their sixth straight win and pulled their record even for the first time in more than a month. The Yankees then went on to win their next four and ten of their next twelve to push their record a full six games over .500.
The last of those games, a 6-3 Friday night victory at home against the rival Red Sox, also involved a late game rally, when the Yanks touched up Tim Wakefield and Alan Embree for five runs in the sixth inning. Basking in the glow of that victory and the 16-2 run that it capped, pushing the Yankees six games over .500, I claimed that the Yankees had "passed the test" by taking two of three from the Mets, sweeping the Tigers, and rallying to defeat the Red Sox. Since then, the Yankees have gone 1-8 against the Sox, Royals, Twins and now Brewers. Clearly my declaration was premature. With last night's loss, the Yankees, now seven games behind the Orioles in fourth place in the east, have dipped below .500 once again.
2004 Record: 67-94 (.416)
Manager: Ned Yost
Ballpark (2004 park factors): Miller Park (95/96)
Who's replacing whom?
Carlos Lee replaces Scott Podsednik
1B Lyle Overbay
R Bill Hall (IF)
R Ben Sheets
R Derrick Turnbow
DL: L - Russell Branyan (3B)
R Brady Clark (CF)
If the Brewers were to maintain their current .464 winning percentage, they would finish 2005 with their best record since switching over to the National League following the 1997 season, but that's not the good news for Brewer fans. No, that would be their current Pythagorean winning percentage of .549.
Middle of the Road
Another lost weekend. The Bombers dropped two-of-three to the Twins. They are 1-5 on their current 12-game road trip, 28-28 on the season, and six games behind the Orioles. Heard any good jokes lately? Torii Hunter told New York reporters:
"They've got some great guys over there," Hunter said. "But it just seems like they're not having any fun. Even when you're losing, you've got to have fun out here. It seems like it's all controlled over there. We play our music no matter what.
The Yanks start a three-game series against the Brewers tonight.
I didn't catch much of last night's 6-3 Yankee loss to the Twins, though from what I saw, I caught plenty of it the first three times they played it in Kansas City. The big difference last night was that the Yanks got out to an early 3-0 lead, thanks in large part to a 2-run dinger from Gary Sheffield. But Moose couldn't hold it, losing the lead when Lew Ford smacked a 3-run dinger in the fifth to add to the solo shot hit earlier in the game by . . . Brent Abernathy?! The Yanks didn't get Abernathy out all night, as it turns out. I think that about says it all.
Tonight, Chein-Ming Wang finally gets to take his turn in the rotation following his turn as Yankee tournaquet last Sunday against Boston. At this point I have more confidence with Wang on the mound than with any other starter, Johnson included. That said, Wang's only poor major league start came on the turf in Tampa Bay when those groundouts he unerringly throws kept scooting past the Yankee defenders. Of course, even if Wang is effective, it likely won't mean much unless the Yankees can score more than three runs for the first time in a week.
So what the hell happened in Kansas City? Steven Goldman offers his two cents on today's Pinstriped Blog. Joe Torre says it all comes back around to starting pitching. If you ask me, the pitching wasn't the problem. Yes, you'd like to see the Yankee starters dominate a hapless offense such as the Royals', but the 4.00 ERA they posted over three games is more than half a run better than the staff's season mark and Torre didn't have to use his bullpen much at all (2 2/3 innings of Sturtze, 1 of Gordon).
No, I blame the offense. This team is simply giving away outs, be it by starting Tony Womack and Ruben Sierra, a series of awful baserunning blunders, or simply by hacking their way into outs at the plate. The last of those is enough to make one wonder if Don Mattingly will ever get any heat from the local media. Don't get me wrong, I love and respect Donnie baseball as much as any pinstripe-blooded Yankee fan, but back when the Yankees were looking for a hitting coach after losing the 2003 World Series, I wondered if Donnie's personal history of contact hitting was less than ideal for a team built around working the count, drawing walks, and knocking them home with big blasts. Though I was very pleased when Mattingly was hired less than a week later, and thrill to the site of Donnie with his beat-up little black book consulting hitters before and after at-bats, I still wonder.
Heading into Minnesota, the Yankee bats get a break, as they will miss both Johan Santana (who struck out 14 Indians last night) and Hometown Brad Radke, who has walked just three men all season. But then again, to an offense that just scored a grand total of three runs against D.J. Carrasco, Ryan Jensen and the Royals bullpen, Kyle Lohse, Joe Mays and Carlos Silva could just as easily be Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
What Might Have Been
Mark Armour has a nifty piece over at The Baseball Analysts about the Yankees first free agent draft. It's a must-read for Yankee fans, who may or may not know that Reggie Jackson was not the Yankees first--or second or third--cherce in 1977. Armour details what went down and asks, what would have happened if the Yankees had gotten their man, Bobby Grich? Who knows if they would have won two straight World Serious'? Oscar Gamble would have never left, Bucky Dent would have never been a Yankee, Billy Martin may have slept a bit better at night, and the Yankee clubhouse would have been a more harmonious--and for the sportswriters, dull--place. Without Reggie, there would have been no Bronx Zoo, and, who knows, maybe Grich would have eventually made the Hall of Fame.
Read it and (s)weep.
The Yankees vs. Dignity
The Yankees try to salvage their dignity tonight against the Royals as Carl Pavano looks to do the same following the pasting he took at the hands of the Red Sox on Saturday (five runs on eleven hits in 3 2/3 IP). In his way stands . . . Ryan Jensen?
The 29-year-old Jensen failed to stick in the Giants' rotation a few years back, posted a 5.36 ERA in triple-A Fresno last year before being released by the Giants over the winter. Filling an injury hole in the Royals rotation, he's thus far made two starts for Kansas City: 2 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks in 5 IP for a win over the Cardinals (not bad!), and 7 runs on 8 hits and a walk in 3 1/3 against the Angels (bad!).
The Yanks sure could use a win tonight going into a weekend series against the Twins, and the offense really needs to get going heading into Minnesota, even if the Yankees did get a huge break by drawing the bottom three Twins starters this weekend.
To that end, Joe Torre held yet another team meeting after last night's game, in large part due to the terrible approach his hitters were displaying at the plate. Quothe Joe afterwards:
I didn't like what I saw. I didn't see a lot of patience. It just didn't feel like we were having good at-bats. I'm trying to find a different way to say it, but we didn't make [the opposing pitchers] work like we normally do. It's something I'm surprised about and certainly it's no fun watching it.
Indeed, going into the ninth inning down three runs, each of the first four batters swung at the first pitch, with only Robinson Cano having a positive result from that swing. On the night, the Yankees made seven outs on the first pitch of an at-bat.
He also seemed frustrated with the teams' general lack of heads-up play adding, "We've got to think better than we think." Here's hoping they have their thinking caps on tonight.
The Summer of Second Chances (Part Two)
Chapter Two from "Forging Genius"
By Steven Goldman
(Part Two of Two; click here for Part One)
In 1841, the United States had three presidents. In the Bronx, 1946 was the year of three managers. McCarthy's replacement, veteran Yankees catcher Bill Dickey, refused to finish out the season under MacPhail. The season was completed under interim manager/organization man Johnny Neun. Neun "had let it be known after about a week that he knew now what McCarthy and Dickey had been talking about and, by God, he didn't have to take that from anybody either." The second-division Cincinnati Reds seemed a better option, and off he went.
That September, Stanley Raymond "Bucky" Harris was hired to serve in an undefined executive capacity (MacPhail acted as his own general manager, and Weiss, the club's farm director since 1932, was on hand to take care of anything that might escape his notice. Barrow, ostensibly a consultant to the club, was also available, though MacPhail never called) and asked to evaluate the team. Almost a quarter century earlier, Harris had been the twenty-eight-year-old "boy manager" who had guided the Washington Senators to consecutive pennants in his initial seasons at the helm. After that the going was not nearly so smooth. Harris's initial command of the Senators lasted until 1928, at which time owner Clark Griffith terminated him, in part for not following up on his earlier success, and in part for failing to recognize the talents of second base prospect Buddy Myer.
Harris moved on to Detroit, where in five seasons he failed to produce a first-division finish. Still in demand, in 1934 he became the first manager hired by Tom Yawkey as owner of the Boston Red Sox. The team's 7676 record was its best since 1918, but Harris clashed with general manager Eddie Collins and was dismissed. He returned to Washington, where sentimental Senators owner Clark Griffith was never loathe to reemploy an old pal. In the following eight seasons, the club finished fourth once and otherwise could be counted on for a sixth or seventh place finish. Harris made way for another Griffith buddy, Ossie Bleuge.
Harris then briefly managed the Philadelphia Phillies under owner Bill Cox, whose own term was foreshortened by Commissioner of Baseball Judge Landis after it was revealed that Cox had bet on his own club. Cox fired Harris after ninety-two games, claiming that he had called his players "a bunch of jerks." In fact, the players threatened to strike when informed of Harris's termination. Said Harris, "If there is any jerk connected with this ball club, it's the president of it." That seemed to have been the last encore for the graying, forty-six-year-old, non-boy manager. When MacPhail hired him, Harris had been serving as the general manager of the International League's Buffalo club. This was actually fine with Harris; after two decades on the managerial merry-go-round, he desired to become an executivepreferably with the Detroit Tigers, but if their general manager's job wasn't open, a job with the Yankees would have to do.
Someone Left The Cake Out In The Rain
The Yankees haven't lost on my man Alex's birthday since 2001, but they did so last night against the pathetic Kansas City Royals, dropping the game 3-1 and in turn giving the Royals just their fourth series win on the season (the others coming against the Angels, Indians, D-Rays).
Randy Johnson again failed to dominate, allowing 9 hits including a two-run first-inning home run on a flat slider to Emil Brown. Overall, it was Johnson's best start in his last four tries, as he went the distance, striking out seven against just one walk, needing just 104 pitches to get through eight, 68 percent of which were strikes. But one must remember that he was facing this line-up:
Facing those nine, Johnson allowed three runs in his first three innings, which would prove to be all the Royals needed.
The Yankee bats were pathetic, announcing the official arrival of a team-wide slump that has seen them score just seven runs in their last four games. Their only real threat against D.J. Carrasco, who picked up his first win as a major league starter, came in the first.
Leading off the game, Jeter worked Carrasco for seven pitches before flying out. Matsui, batting in the two-spot with Tony Womack on the bench, then singled on Carrasco's 15th pitch and Sheffield walked on the next four. With two on and just one out, Carrasco then got two called strikes on Alex Rodriguez before getting him to fly out to right and Jorge Posada followed with a two-pitch groundout to first.
Brown touched off on Johnson in the bottom of the inning (and I do mean "touched off," his shot was a no-doubter that splashed down in the fountain in left) two outs after a perfectly placed lead-off bloop double just inside the foul line in shallow right by Angel Berroa. That was about all she wrote.
For Real This Time
Despite the Yankees' current three-game losing streak (against the rival Red Sox and rotten Royals, no less), I'm not particularly alarmed about how this team is playing. Win ten in a row here, lose three in a row there, that's more than acceptable. That said, there is no excuse for this team not to take the remaining two games of this series in Kansas City.
Joe Torre will be back in the dugout tonight, having served his one-day suspension resulting from the Quantrill-Tigers incident yesterday. Quantrill himself remains suspended for the duration of this series, which shouldn't matter much as he could use a break after his disastrous appearance on Sunday and Tanyon Sturtze, who worked one scoreless inning last night, is the only Yankee reliever to have pitched since then.
Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui got the park early yesterday to work on defense and hitting respectively. Matsui, whose drills focused on hitting off of a tee, responded immediately last night with his first homer since the Cretaceous Period (a.k.a. April 8). Rodriguez's results will reveal themselves over a longer period, but he did look good in the field last night.
The Royals are skipping the atrocious Jose Lima (8.13 ERA, 15 homers in 11 starts) tonight in favor of D.J. Carrasco, who has two quality starts in three attempts this season (the exception coming against the Orioles), but just five strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings (he's a contact/groundball type). Randy Johnson, who will take the hill for the Yanks, really needs to have a dominant outing having allowed 28 hits and struck out just 8 (against five walks) in his last three starts combined (18 2/3 IP), and there's no better team to do that against than the 2005 Kansas City Royals.
As always . . .
Derek Jeter was robbed on the first play of the game last night, which set the tone for the evening as the the Bombers fell to the lowly Royals, 5-3 in Kansas City. Robinson Cano made a key error, Tony Womack got himself picked off of first to thwart a rally in the seventh, and the Yankees managed only five hits all night (including two doubles by Bernie Williams and a dinger--yes a long ball--by Godziller Matsui). They chased "Baby-faced Finster" Grenike early enough but then didn't do anything against the Royals' bullpen. Oy veh. It was one of those games. The kind where I find myself getting way too emotional about things I've got absolutely no control over, grinding my teeth, mumbling to myself. So, without getting irrational about it, let's just say that it was a discouraging performance by the Yanks.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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